Crossroads!

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The COVID-19 pandemic has so far taken the lives of hundreds of thousands around the world but, Madagascar appears to be the only exception to the fatalities being recorded globally. Nearly every country in the world has reported cases of infection along with recorded fatalities. However, Madagascar stands out as the single country with reported cases (low number) of infections but without any fatalities so far.

Whether this development can be attributed to the anti-COVID-19 tonic brewed from local herbs that its scientists have declared is a cure to the virus remains yet unknown. What is clear is that the World Health Organization (WHO) has disapproved the tonic declaring that it has not been subjected to the rigors of scientific testing.

Moreover, it has not only frowned on African leaders, (the latest Ghanaian being leader Nana Akufuo Addo) who appear to have bought into this but is seemingly drumming up support (allegedly for a fee paid by big drug companies) amongst other African leaders to condemn the tonic.

Following closely in the stead of the WHO is the West African Health Organization (WAHO), which has also condemned the Madagascar tonic, repeating the same hype that it has not been subjected to scientific testing while at the same time it has maintained sealed lips on proposals by French and other Western drug companies to use the population of African countries to conduct test trials on an experimental anti COVID-19 vaccine.

So far there is no recorded instance of the WAHO subjecting samples of the Madagascar tonic to exhaustive testing, neither did it comment when US President Donald Trump floated the idea of using hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus.

Hydroxychloroquine has been used for decades as a first-choice drug for treatment of malaria and never ever, according to local medical practitioners, has it been used to treat the flu, pneumonia, or other respiratory infections.

But the leader of the “free world” and obviously the greatest country on earth, Donald Trump, had even floated the idea (albeit facetiously) of using disinfectants to inject into infected individuals. Of course, this was laughable but, it did underscore the fact that desperation can drive people to extreme lengths. It is within this context that the development of the Madagascar tonic can be explained.

But while President Trump was advancing such outlandish ideas, completely ignoring the advice of health professionals, the virus was meanwhile taking a heavy toll in lives in the US. Rather than allowing the professionals to take charge and lead the fight, it appeared that politicians on Capitol Hill were instead in charge. The results have been, at best, dismal but least surprising.

Similarly, in Liberia the anti-COVID-19 fight is being led and directed by politicians rather than by health professional. This situation obtains in face of the fact that Liberia has a very low patient-doctor ratio with one doctor to every 15,000 persons. The WHO recommends 1 doctor to every 1,000 persons.

But more than that, there is a critical lack or shortage of drug and other essential supplies at nearly every pubic health facility. Even the much touted 14 Military Hospital is but a shadow of what a hospital should actually be, according to some local medical practitioners (names withheld).

They contend that most of the tasks of patient diagnosis handling, care and management of COVID-19 caseloads are being entrusted to over worked and overburdened nurses many of who are contractual workers especially at the JFK Hospital, the nation’s largest training and referral health facility.

Even the task of information dissemination to the public is being tightly guarded with attempts by the Ministry of Information to impose restrictions on the media and limit coverage to specially chosen media institutions.

Such restrictions have come in the form of special passes which officials claim are being abused. But such is idle talk because it is no secret that officials are issuing out passes to girlfriends, friends and relatives. And this is clearly evident in the number of vehicles seen in the streets after the official 3:00pm lockdown hour.

Further, advertisers, especially NGOs, including UN agencies it appears, are now being coerced into placing adverts on the Executive Mansion website instead and of course receiving payments for same. This is indeed a disguised attempt to economically strangulate the media. And all this is happening under the watch of Information Minister Eugene Nagbe and Presidential Press Secretary Solo Kelgbeh.

From the look of things, the official anti-COVID-19 fight appears disjointed and uncoordinated accompanied by intense jockeying for access to resources. Informed sources have told this newspaper that security officers, including Police, Immigration and other members of the Joint Security  have openly expressed concerns about being underpaid to perform long hours of security duties including the manning of checkpoints around the city of Monrovia.

Such developments are indeed feeding into rising public perceptions of insecurity. And with rumors spreading fast in the public about a pending deployment of the AFL in the streets of Monrovia to enforce lockdown measures, people are openly expressing their displeasure about such a possible development out of generally held fears of AFL heavy-handed action against civilians.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear just when this official anti-COVID-19 fight will see the full involvement of health professionals during this difficult period. Additionally, when will the National Public Health Institute and other allied institutions including those concerned with research on traditional medicine announce that they have scientifically tested or conduct testing on the Madagascar tonic and other local remedies

Recalling history, Liberian scientist and plant pathologist, Dr. Cyril Broderick, said that the 2014 Ebola outbreak was a US military field test of weaponized Ebola and that the US military held a patent for Ebola. He was cried down. Also, Dr. Vuyu Golakai, a respected and longstanding medical practitioner was heavily chastised by President Ellen Sirleaf when he condemned post Ebola vaccine test trials by the NGO PREVAIL simply because he dared question their motives, intent and the efficacy of their test trials and results.

Six years later, we find ourselves at similar crossroads. Which path do we take?

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